It's happening! My mission trip to Sri Lanka will start on April 24th.
Josh and I will fly to Colombo and then travel to Bogowantalawa up in the tea growing highland country. There we will stay with Pastor Sylvester and minister in various meetings. We finish with a Pastors' Meeting for all the pastors of the Smyrna Network on the 30th, before flying out that night.
Now that I've actually booked the plane tickets, I am getting somewhat excited.
What an awesome privilege it is to be able to go and encourage pastors in that nation.
Authenticity, and How the Church Ignores It from Cerulean Sanctum by Dan Edelen
I think we’re all sick of being marketed to. You would think the Church in America would get this. You would think.
It used to be a joke that the megachurch down the road actually had on its staff a Pastor of Demographics. Now that leading megachurches such as the big daddy of them all, Willow Creek Community Church, have confessed that their entire philosophy is broken and does not produce the desired discipleship results, one would think that churches would get a clue and start moving toward something—anything—more real.
But one would be wrong.
There persists in contemporary churches a disdain for the purity of the simple truths of the Bible and the practices of the ancient Church. We have this business mentality that we like to apply to the way we express Christianity in America, and it taints everything we do.
Though we’re all sick of the slickness of the productions American churches feel they must continually flog, and we’re burned out on prepackaged faith “experiences,” we modern Christians can’t seem to break free of the crapola we force our meetings and practices to conform to. Instead, novelty and entertainment value still reign.
People are dying for authenticity, though. They don’t want to feel marketed to and manipulated. In times such as these, people not only want meaning, they need it for their sanity.
Yet the way we have structured our modern society produces alienation. In America, this is amplified by our national narrative of lauding free-thinkers who beat the system and did it their way without anyone else’s help.
Except the Church of Jesus is not based on being solitary iconoclasts. Ours is a community with with a deep-seated history and a narrative that includes powerful sources of meaning that shouldn’t be subject to constant reappraisal. In its experimentation with being cutting edge, today’s Western Church has purposefully fled that history and abandoned its sources of meaning. That the rest of our culture has already done the same, to its obvious detriment and rot, doesn’t seem to register with church leaders.
The result is the cold, anonymous, sterile stage hall that is called a church building. Stripped of every element of iconography and meaning, it transmits nothing except chilling functionality.
Whereas the early Church celebrated the death and resurrection of Christ in a full course meal that foreshadows the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, we now receive a prepackaged communion unit consisting of a dose of artificial-tasting juice with a flavorless, plastic-enclosed wafer serving as the lid, the Body and Blood fully commodified and stripped of all meaning.
Worship consists of a stubble-faced young man who sings electronically amplified Top 40 songs about how lovely God is, his face twisted in a calculated, video-friendly ecstasy that more resembles passing a kidney stone.
Whereas we once sang from books that had been handled by generations, we now sing from projected images that must also move, the transience of their cascading imagery wiping away memory, even as the movement keeps us from being bored.
And our message of grace and the majesty of who Jesus is gets lost amid the trappings of fixing our existence so that our lives look like a success, even if we feel less and less like one.
Real human beings are out there wondering if anyone truly cares. What we give them instead are carefully constructed and programmed faith inoculations.
People are dying for the authentic. They don’t want an efficient church, but a real one.They want a Christianity that bleeds real blood and makes a difference in the lives of people, not just discussing doing so while it pursues other agendas.
No one talks about the emerging church anymore. That movement died because it became what it protested. And even though it was a functional failure, what the emerging church was fighting for remains a critical need.
People are sick and tired of how the Church in America is practicing the faith. We are burned out of the dog and pony show. Our cynical young people understand this, their cynicism in full fester because no one is listening to them, even when they flee the Church. They want genuine connection to what is lasting and worth preserving.
Making concessions to the world’s processes has failed to root us in a genuine faith; in fact, quite the opposite. Whatever roots we had have been dug up, moved from the forest, and transplanted into a styrofoam coffee cup in someone else’s spiritual trophy case. And that’s no way to live.
I don’t think the Church gets this. It doesn’t see how shallow it has become. It doesn’t value what is real. It doesn’t have any idea what people truly need. Oh, it thinks it knows because its leaders read the latest bestseller on how to grow a church, but that million dollar advice in a $20 tome could not be farther from what is truly needed.
Honestly, I think I’m at the point of giving up. No one listens to those crying, “Danger!” No, instead well-meaning people craft a vision that has no basis in the redemptive narrative that is the Gospel. We have instead found our redemption in what the world says is hip and cool, and we dance to that hypnotic tune, oblivious to a world engaged in a desperate search for what is lasting, meaningful, and justifying.
This feed is from Cerulean Sanctum (http://ceruleansanctum.com), a blog by Dan Edelen that covers issues facing the American Church.
I've been preaching for a few years now that the gospel Jesus and Paul preached was "The Kingdom of God is here."
Scott McKnight who is apparently a much deeper thinker than yours truly, has put this into a book that I really can't wait to get my hands on: "The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited" I've got it on order from Amazon and I am looking forward to reading it like no other book- with the exception of the Bible.
Scott draws a distinction between the evangelical obsession with "salvation" (which he calls the soterian message) and the New Testament's emphasis on the Kingdom of God. So how do you "do" evangelism in this framework?
A friend the other day says to me, “I was talking to a young pastor who likes your book but asked me, ‘What do I say to someone if I have 3-5 minutes?’” [Blech, I thought, that 3-5 minute thing is a problem that only soterians care about.] Later that day a former student says to me, “If you had to talk to a young adult who didn’t have anything to do with the church, what would you say?” And this one comes all the time, “If you are right about the King Jesus gospel, and I’m mostly with you on this one, how do we evangelize?” Some say to me “I can no longer manipulate people to feel guilty; I want to participate in drawing people into the kingdom who live under the King. How do we evangelize?”
The answer is as simple as it is profound.
If I have to sum this up in one word we have to “witness.” Our responsibility is not to persuade, or to convince, or to defend. Our responsibility is to be a “witness” — but a witness to what? Exactly.
We are witnesses to Jesus as Messiah/King and Lord, the one who saves.
Our responsibility is first of all to live in such a way that we embody what Jesus calls us to do.
Our responsibility is to point people to Jesus, to tell the Story of Jesus, and to tell of our own story with Jesus.
I make an observation about how our New Testament is organized. First “the gospel.” They are called The Gospels today but they are the one and only gospel in four versions, four “witnesses,” four “gospelers” (or four evangelists). Those four books are the place to begin because that is how the New Testament begins. We begin with the gospel, and that means we begin by telling people about Jesus. Almost any passage will do. You can begin with the genealogy or the Sermon on the Mount or his miracles or his parables or his life events, or even the big events. If you want to know how to “witness,” read the Gospels. In those four books you will see time and time again how to tell a story so that it leads us to think about Jesus.
But this implies knowledge of the Bible or even a church context. The first thing to do in any “gospeling” event is to aim at pointing people to Jesus. It might be an observation: “Jesus called us to serve one another.” It might be a question: “Why wouldn’t a Jesus follower want to reach out in love to a Muslim neighbor?” Or it might be a more direct witness: “Jesus long ago once told us a story about a woman who anointed his feet and got some religious leaders irritated.”
What we ought to be about is getting people to think about Jesus, holding classes where all sorts can come around to learn about Jesus, offering public discussions about Jesus. We want to stir an interest in Jesus. We are not trying first to stir interest in our church, or in someone’s sins or in some kind of theological debate.
We are witnesses. First and foremost we are witness to and about Jesus. Our calling is to draw attention to Jesus and to call folks’ attention to Jesus. The Story of Jesus awakens faith and in that context the summons to repent, to be believe and to be baptized can be given.
The focus is not on what people get if they accept Jesus; the focus is Jesus. He’ll give them what he wants. And he wants.
Many months ago, the kind folks at Table Talk magazine asked me to write an article on the change in Christian practice and presence in NYC since 9-11. The article was one of several essays in their 911 issue. I had heard many anecdotal stories of massive growth (that turned out not to be true) but also found some better research that pointed to some helpful trends.
I was born and reared in metro NYC (Levittown to be specific). My father tells me he helped lay the iron re-bar in what was then the World Trade Center. My grandfather was a Manhattan fire battalion chief who knew many of the Firefighters who perished in 9-11. And, I have lived in NY longer than any other state. So, NYC is near and dear to me. I was glad they asked and happy to agree to write the article.
I worked to assemble some data and analysis on what was taking place and then shared the results in TableTalk. Here are some excerpts from that article. You can read it in it's entirety here.
It should not surprise us that there is interest in how people respond after tragedy. Missiologists have long known that receptivity to the gospel tends to increase in times of distress (especially national distress). But has this been the case in the area closest to the epicenter of terror? In a LifeWay Research study, we asked fifteen thousand Americans when they were most open to issues of faith. When specifically asked whether they were "more open to considering matters of faith ... after a major national crisis such as 9/11," 38 percent answered in the affirmative. In the face of that fact, we should be willing to investigate what impact the gospel has had on New York City since that day...
[T]he Values Research Institute reports a small but measurable shift. During a six-week span, VRI representatives visited 729 sites, including 295 Protestant sites and 197 evangelical church sites. The data was collected street by street from the area known as Manhattan center city. That study indicates that the percentage of Manhattan center city residents attending an evangelical church has tripled in the last twenty years.
In January 2011, the Washington Post reported, "New York has gotten a lot of press in recent months over the [Islamic] center controversy, but what's been hidden amidst all the invective is that New York is exploding with religious fervor. I know it's hard for many folks outside the Big Apple -- who write off the country's largest city as hopelessly secularized -- to grasp this." The reports from both pastors and the Post should give us cause to celebrate -- if they are correct....
An unreleased series of surveys (graciously released for this article by the Barna Group) found increases in several spiritual markers in the New York City media market between 2000 and 2010 and decreases in others. The percentage of people who attended church "in the past week" rose from 31 percent to 46 percent. Those self-identifying as "born again" increased from 21 percent to 32 percent, while those who read the Bible outside of church increased slightly to just over one-third...
The VRI claims that Central Manhattan alone has 197 evangelical churches, with 39 percent of them having been founded since 2000. Its map of Central Park South to Battery Park is dotted with scores of churches....
The horror of 9/11 left a smoldering pile of dusty rubble, but the gospel of Jesus Christ has overcome the terror in the lives of many New Yorkers, changing lives where the likelihood of change was doubted. "Political scientists had predicted that religion would not play any future important role in city politics," Tony Carnes of the VRI told the Post. "Journalists and intellectuals beat the secular drum harder than any street musician. It's time to change our thinking; it's time to get a new tune."
The numbers, as a whole, speak to gospel advance -- perhaps not as much as many would want, but still present. It will be interesting to see the growth and development of the Christian presence in New York City in the next ten years.
Thanks to David Kinnaman from the Barna Group for sharing this data with me. After they graciously sliced and shared the data, I encouraged them to release it themselves. They recently released a "Barna Update" on the subject that you can find here.
Sunday morning and people are praying. The music starts and people come flocking into the room- 100, 200, 500 people- the number doesn't matter.
People start expressing their love for God in song.
One side a group of people is dancing. The opposite side a painter and a sculptor work away. The worship band slowly fades in volume and the dancers and artists merge together and a drama unfolds-- today it is a re-telling of the story of Jesus healing a crippled man, and as the actor playing Jesus commands the man to rise up, a real healing takes place and there is a testimony given of a man who has just walked for the first time in years.
Spontaneous praise for Jesus gives way to an offering that is not just money but a heart-felt commitment of our whole lives to God. Two ministry teams are prayed for and commissioned for their trip to Asia- one to build an orphanage, the other to rescue sex workers.
Communion follows and tears are shed as the bread and wine are passed. It's quiet and someone calls out "Please save me Jesus." A cell group leader comes and stands next to her and while the sermon is preached shares with her how to be set free from sin.
The sermon ends and we adjourn to the creek where a baptism takes place.
Morning tea is beside the creek and a group discusses how to implement our refugee resettlement plan.
Just another Sunday at New Life, powered by a constant stream of prayer rising up 24 hours a day from the newly dedicated prayer and healing rooms in the main street. Cell groups meet every day and evening in various homes discipling, mentoring and growing full-on christians.
We don't yet see this, but we will, and soon. It's not about a style of worship or a plan for community, but the Holy Spirit working deeply in our hearts to establish the Kingdom of God- or at least a representative sample of it in this town.
This news item shows the danger of turning worship into entertainment and the value shift that accompanies that change. Personally, I am thanful for our own "special needs" people who remind us all of the humanity of worship and the limitations of all of us.
Special Needs Boy Removed From Worship
Can the values of entertainment and hospitality coexist?
by Skye Jethani
Many churches focus on providing a compelling worship experience. The desire is to attract people to an excellent production where they can sing, learn, and leave feeling renewed. For decades we've called this approach "seeker-sensitive." But does that sensitivity have limits?
News reports broke last week about a 12-year-old boy with cerebral palsy being removed from Elevation Church for being a "distraction" during the Easter service. The boy's mother said, “Easter Sunday he got all dressed up, got ready to go, no small feat with a kiddo like him." But, according to the report, after the opening prayer inside the sanctuary the boy voiced his own kind of “Amen.”
“We were very abruptly escorted out," the mother said.
Following the incident, the boy's mother contacted church leaders with an offer to start a ministry for special needs children. She told reporters that the idea was "rejected."
After the story was broadcast on the local news (you can watch the video here), Elevation Church issued a statement in which they clarified that "...this young man and his family were not removed from our church. They were escorted to a nearby section of our church where they watched the service in its entirety."
The church also said, “It is our goal at Elevation to offer a distraction free environment for all our guests. We look forward to resolving any misunderstanding that has occurred.”
Yesterday, we enjoyed a very powerful church service in which the "worship time" (I really loathe that term to describe the singing bit) was anointed by the Holy Spirit and I preached with a passion that surprised me and then the church spontaneously gathered around Margaret and me to pray for us.
Immediately after this awesome (in the true sense of the word) worship event, we moved into a barbecue lunch which my cell group had planned over several weeks. We invited a number of visitors to join us as a part of our outreach, and about 10 or so people came.
And we did lunch together.
People shared together over food. Some ate outside and others inside. Children played riotous games together.
Somehow food got cooked and dishes were washed without any rosters, plans or intimidation.
Everyone ate with lots left over.
The Kingdom of God was demonstrated.
When the people of God eat together we come together in peace and inclusive love.... well that's the aim at least, even if we don't always achieve that. When we invite those who aren't yet in the Kingdom to join with us we are demonstrating the openness and inclusiveness of God.
As John Piper points out, doing it outside draws us into a celebration of God's creation, and so churches have a responsibility to picnic together regularly.
I don't know if anyone was saved or not.
I do know that I and other people in our congregation had a chance to meet some new people and renew old friendships. Some people came into our building and enjoyed the experience.
The worship yesterday went beyond five songs, some preaching and some powerful prayers. The worship lasted all the way through lunch.
Now we pray that our guests saw enough of the Kingdom to make then hungry for more.
This week I’ve been in the midst of a couple discussions about the small church. It started when a colleague cited a statistic he’d read that 94 percent of churches in North America were small churches. I was tempted to reply that God must love small churches, since the Lord apparently created so many, but before I could, the conversation took a turn and the next comment caused me to pause in wonder: “Small churches won’t change the future.”
Maybe I’m an optimist or maybe I’m naïve … I might even be deluded. But deep inside my core, I believe small churches have the power to change communities. Community changing isn’t a task for the faint of heart, whether you attend a mega church or a house church. There’s a sense in which community changing is bigger than all of us. Once upon a time there was a widespread supposition that the church could protest, lobby, and legislate community change. But looking back through the Twentieth Century pretty well turns that on its ear. The church tried Prohibition in the 20s, pacifism in the 40s, anti-abortionism in the 60s, anti-homosexualism in the 80s, and frankly, we didn’t/haven’t “won” any of those “battles.” In fact, in each of these cases the church lost face and garnered a rather unpleasant reputation.
Real community change has never been achieved through social justice action, whether by protest, lobbying, or legislation. Civil rights, a right and good thing, has done little to eradicate racism, let alone elitism. And though we’ve seen other legislated social changes come and go with one administration or another, the fact remains the warp and woof of society’s fabric has largely remained unchanged by the church’s collective demands.
It’s not that community change isn’t a noble pursuit. Indeed, ultimately, the capital C Church is expected to engage culture and effect changes. The kingdom of God demands it. The issue is “how?” … and if we’re honest, we’ll at least cock our head to one side to question the church’s past performance and results. Perhaps the time has come to explore a different approach.
For just a moment, ponder the following. What did Jesus specifically have to say about the social issues of his day? What did he say about the poor? About the Roman occupation? About racism? About slavery? How did Jesus suggest we engage each of these?
Jesus’ solution, and the writers of the New Testament echo and interpret that solution, was for each disciple to live morally ethical lives, to abide by the laws of the government, to pay their taxes, and to make disciples. Not in that order. I don’t for one moment believe Jesus wasn’t concerned about the social woes of his day. But it’s clear that the solution for his disciples was to busy themselves as the church in things of eternal consequences. When they did, the kingdom of God would follow close behind. Change the heart of racists, and racism will cease to be an issue. Connect people of addictions to the Great Physician and alcohol looses its noose. Immerse local and national leaders in faithful discipleship and politics will play on a different playing field. When hearts truly change, lives change. And when lives change, the very fabric of society itself changes. Historically, whenever the church has lost that focus, it’s cultural influence has been lost as well.
So, what does this have to do with small churches and their role in community changing? Estimates vary, but there are conservatively 282,000 small churches in the United States (and some suggest as many as 423,000). However, the vast majority of small churches remain small because they are inward focused. So long as a church is primarily concerned with entertaining the personal comfort and preferences of its membership, it will move, touch, inspire, and influence no one beyond its walls. But when a small church frees itself of its “self,” then it holds almost unlimited power to change culture. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
The last in a series of posts on the greatest student missionary movement in history. We’ve seen is rise and its fall. Here are a few thoughts on the enduring lessons for us today.
1. History is made by people who don’t know any better.
The break throughs in the renewal and expansion of the Christian movement always occur on the fringe. One of the greatest Protestant missionary movement was launched by a group of students meeting informally over the summer to study the Bible.
2. Faith moves nations.
The brother and sister team of Grace and Robert Wilder became convinced that God going to do something great among the students of their day. They believed and prayed until that vision became a reality. God took the initiative and they responded with faith and obedience.
3. Serve a great cause.
Everything the SVM stood for was summed up in their watchword: “The evangelization of the world in this generation.” It was unrealistic and simplistic, and twenty-thousand workers responded to the call. Behind the watchword was a confidence in the power of the God to do the impossible.
4. Keep fit, fast and lean.
The SVM embodied its cause in structures and forms that added momentum to its advance. Student run groups were formed in every college campus. Leaders for the organization were raised up from within. Most of the work was achieved by volunteers. Traveling secretaries linked the groups and kept them on track.
These lean structures enabled the movement to expand rapidly without centralized funding, control or bureaucracy.
5. Narrow the focus to widen the impact
The SVM knew its boundaries. It did not get involved in the complexity of sending and supporting workers on the field. Its unique contribution was the recruitment of workers for existing mission agencies.
6. Beware the failure of success.
As quickly as it had risen, the SVM fell. At the peak of its success it embraced another gospel that was more in tune with the spirit of the age. The SVM betrayed its reason for existence: “The evangelization of the world in this generation.”
7. God has the last word.
The SVM survived for decades as a failed organization and then voted itself out of existence. Meanwhile, on the fringes, God was raising up other student missionary movements to take the gospel to the ends of the world. . .
Every year in our town, usually the Thursday about a week before Christmas, the street is closed off late in the afternoon and a street party/ carnival takes place, during which the shops hope to sell more products than they would otherwise.
Last year, for the first time, we took a table and some products from our Christian Bookshop and also our nativity figures and were just there as a low-key witness to the real meaning of Christmas amidst the worldliness and commercialism of it all.
This year we repeated the process and we asked Troy to sing some God-songs- just a couple of brackets using an ordinary guitar amp and microphone.
It wasn't a big deal and was meant to just say "Christ is here."
Interestingly, shortly after Troy started singing, the rev-heads started up the engine on a boat they had parked in the middle of the street nearly opposite where we were. It was a horrible noise, and when they revved it up, the sound level was horrendous. People were covering their ears, babies crying. They kept that up for some time. Somebody must have called the police, because they came by and had a little chat to the lads. Next time, they only ran it for 15 seconds and didn't rev it at all. This wasn't about people trying to be smart- it was a spiritual attack.
Again we had plenty of chances to talk to people, some of whom we have now known for years. You can see that some of them are coming close to the kingdom. We don't preach at people, but we do let them know that we are consistent in what we do and believe and that we care about them. Sometimes we even get to talk about Jesus.
We had several people come to us and say "It is so good that you are here reminding people of the real meaning of Christmas."
The other interesting observation is to see people literally crossing the road to avoid out little stall. The spirit of fear is so strong in them that they just cannot come near to anything smelling faintly of God.
We took over $800 worth of stock with us tonight and came home having sold-- wait for it! $2 worth!!
That's all right because there's plenty of people needing to make a profit from consumers. There aren't too many wanting to take time to share God's love.
It was a good night and I feel that God was pleased by our humble efforts.
Mega-church North Point Community Church in Georgia, USA wants to build a $5 million bridge to ease parking congestion.
$5 Million Bridge to Somewhere: Tie it to the Purpose
Let's Build a Bridge
Church building campaigns can be hard for congregations to swallow. But how about building a $5 million bridge to ease parking congestion for a church?
That's what North Point Community Church outside Atlanta, Ga., is doing with their Let's Build a Bridge campaign. When I first saw it I literally thought it was a joke. As the opening copy explained:
Are you tired of sitting in the parking lot for twenty minutes after church? Do you hesitate to invite friends to church because of the complexity of getting on and off our campus? Have you ever skipped the closing song to beat the crowds to lunch?
Therefore North Point needs a $5 million, three-lane bridge that spans 1,000 feet of floodplain and wetlands. It's no joke. As North Point pastor Andy Stanley explains, this has been nine years in the making.
Is church attendance really the goal of what the church should be about?
What sort of disciples is the church producing if skipping the last song for the sake of getting home early is a common practice?
What does this church imagine fellowship or community building is about?
Has the church as corporation overtaken the body as community?
How does any church position itself as a different form of organism if it just replicates what other human groups do?
This isn't a snipe at a particular big church in America. These are questions we have to face at every size of congregation- whether you have 20 people or 2,000 people the questions must be faced up to, particularly when a congregation is growing.
[/IMG]The SMH reports today that Brian Houston will be expanding the Hillsong empire into Brisbane, and thence to other cities. Apparently an existing Australian Christian Churches (AOG) church will be rebranded as "Hillsong Brisbane" and Brian and wife Bobbie will be installed as Senior Pastors. A previous pastor was thrown out because the church wanted a CEO style of pastor rather than a pastoral pastor, and more to the point the church was not growing and the previous pastor had had a nervous breakdown.
There is so much that is wrong with this story, if the facts even vaguely line up with the reality.
Let me say that I have a great regard for Brian Houston and what he has achieved with Hillsong. The Hillsong church has done a lot to inspire churches and pastors to get out of the old paradigms and comfort zones- establishing new ones which need to be challenged again.
So there's a large church in Brisbane which is struggling because it's failing to grow numerically. In fine Pentecostal tradition they blame the pastor- as John Maxwell says "everything rises and falls with the leader." They chuck him out with little regard for their responsibility to him- not as an employer but as a christian body.
They lust for the "success" that the Houston name seems to bring so they install Brian and Bobbie as Senior Pastor.
Here are my issues:
1. Brisbane is not Sydney- so why do they think that the Hillsong model should be right for Brisbane?
2. What is meant by a CEO pastor? This is an oxymoron, a contradiction. The roles of CEO and pastor are very different. The imagining of the Body of Christ as a corporate business operation is a total distortion of everything that Jesus died for.
3. Is growth an end in itself? The mega-church phenomenon has always been about attracting a crowd through great entertainment and spectacular "inspiring" preaching. There is far less concern about disciple making and no concern about whether the growth is from genuine conversion or from merely sucking in christians from other churches.
4. It is simply not possible for someone in Sydney to pastor a church in Brisbane. You cannot pastor a community that you are not a part of.
5. The worship of the man, the cult of the leader, has been the biggest weakness in pentecostal churches. The strength has been the freedom of pastors to lead and preach with the authority of their gifting. But this has been twisted over the last couple of decades to become a cult of personality around the charismatic leaders. This is not unique to pentecostal churches- I read a report a few years ago about declining Uniting Church congregations in one region of Sydney where there was a common hope that if they could get the "right minister" everything would be O.K.
We need to understand that the ministry of the church is the responsibility of the whole body, and not just the Senior Pastor or other "staff" members. Getting The Man is not what we should be about.
Pastors are not super-stars- except in their own fantasies. Ephesians 5 clearly paints the 5-fold ministry gifts as being about encouraging the whole body to grow to maturity. If we see the ministry as about one man brining salvation and significance to the congregation (I'm not talking about Jesus!) then we are worshipping the wrong Messiah.
6. Preaching and teaching come from the shared life of a community of faith. Preaching, even in a large crowd, is an interaction, a shared event. What will happen in this arrangement is that eventually (if not immediately) when Brian is in Sydney, the message will be beamed in by internet or satellite so that the satellite congregation can get the best teaching/ performance every week. This already happens in the U.S. as the mega-churches franchise out their operations to other cities or other campuses in the same city.
Think about this: would you rather get a relevant word shaped by our context together or a well presented but generic message from somewhere else? An extreme example of this is that while much of Australia is undergoing an economic recession, Narrabri is undergoing good economic times because we had quite good rural production last year. Does Brian preach a word for the good times or a word for the tough times when we get his message beamed in?
7. This is the last extension of modernity in the church. Modernity, in the cultural use of the term, relates to the way our technological culture with its emphasis on efficiency, achievement and "success" has changed the way that we think of ourselves. Post-modernism is a reaction to that with an emphasis on relationship and expression rather than production. The baby boomers were the ultimate products of modernism where even the church became just another corporation selling a branded product. The post-baby boom generations are seeking authentic relationships and community (not corporate) values. The growth of cell church and house church movements, the resurgence of incarnational and missional movements (the church has to take Jesus to the heart of our cities and towns and not just expect people to turn up at an event), the growth of christian arts communities- all of these things are pointing to a new way of doing things.
The Willow Creek movement has discovered huge failings in the way they did church. Their problem was that church services were focussed on "seekers" (i.e. people) and not on the transcendent God. Hillsong and many pentecostal churches do something similar in that everything focusses on a sharp, efficient presentation with no room in the programme for the Holy Spirit.
8. I really believe that Brian Houston's ministry gift is apostle not pastor. He has tremendous influence way past the local congregation. But he is straying from the New Testament model by installing himself as a pastor in these various offshoot churches. He should abandon the title of pastor altogether and take on board his real calling. This would require him to cut his formal ties with the various Hillsong churches. They could still pay him a salary or a tithe or whatever, but not as a pastor. He could travel from church to church and speak to them as a visiting apostle and with greater authority. I believe that the local church must be led by a local pastor who is in a father-son relationship with an apostle. But the apostle must allow the pastor to lead his own flock and not seek to control the pastor or the congregation.
I find myself very disturbed, though strangely unsurprised by this development. I think that there will be severe problems in the long term, and it may sound the death knell of the Australian Christian Churches as a denomination- in the same way that ordaining homosexual ministers was the death knell of the Uniting Church.
In the place of these institutional juggernauts we will see, over the next 50 years or so the rise of genuine relational apostolic networks and the complete reformation of the church.
Taliban Demands Pope Stop Conversions of Afghans The Taliban has warned Pope Benedict XVI that he will feel "the consequences of a severe reaction" if Christianity is allowed to be preached in Afghanistan. The Taliban has warned Pope Benedict XVI that he will feel "the consequences of a severe reaction" if Christianity is allowed to be preached in Afghanistan.He was also asked to stop any attempts by "crusaders" to convert Muslims to Christianity. The warning was made as Pope Benedict began an eight-day tour of the Middle East on Friday. This is his first papal tour of the Holy Land. According to the ANSA news service, the Taliban issued a statement on an Islamic website following video footage by Al Jazeera showing U.S. soldiers with Bibles translated into the local Afghan languages. The statement, on the website Alemarah1.org, said, "The Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan asks Pope Benedict XVI to act to stop the foolish and irresponsible actions of the crusaders upsetting the feelings of Muslim rebels, without awaiting the consequences of a severe reaction." "The Taleban forcefully exhort the mujaheddin [jihadis], scholars and all religious circles to control the activities of the invaders and crusaders, and not allow anyone to preach religions except Islam," the message continued. Afghan Muslims have been urged by the Taliban to resist conversion to another religion. The U.S. Army said the Bibles were never distributed and were confiscated and destroyed. Army officials also confirmed that proselytism by active troops was forbidden.
Article There are two things to note here. Firstly the notorious Taleban recognises the power of the gospel to set men and women free from all forms of oppression. Secondly the response of false religious spirits to the gospel is violence. God is clearly moving powerfully in Afghanistan- and it's not about soldiers with Bibles.
Christians can be particularly resistant to new things, even though God delights in making old things new-- especially people!
But we love to cling to the old ways that are so familiar... the safe ways, the ways we know.
It's like when you first get your satellite navigation system and find that it wants you to go a different way to the one you always take.
Do you trust the new-fangled gadget against the years of wisdom you've accumulated. Do you boldly go where no man has gone before (well where you have not gone before)? Or do you keep to the tried and tested route?
If somebody suggests something new in church, do you embrace the sense of adventure or flee from the fear of the unknown?
I came across this interesting experiment this afternoon, and frankly it excited me. Wow! Imagine doing a "flash mob" as a form of worship/ prayer. Imagine a bunch of normal people suddenly emerging from a normal crowd, separating themselves out and walking to a nearby park to pray together. Hardly scary stuff, I would have thought. Any way here's the video of one such event in Liverpool, England.
So I thought we could pull that off in Narrabri with a smaller crowd and in the main street. I put up the video and created an event in facebook and sent an email to the other ministers.
The responses from my colleagues were, well unexpected but rather predictable.
One church said "weird but lots of fun- but we will all be away for the weekend", which is OK I guess- that church does seem to have lots of long weekends. At least they were open to the idea.
Another church seemed worried about the possibility of smelly feet... a common enough fear in that part of the woods and seems to come up in connection with foot washing services and enactments of the life of Moses. They did mention that they felt that it might be seen as weird for a conservative town, when christians are already considered weird.
Another response was that praying is good but loving people is better- which I thought was a little odd, because I was thinking half an hour out of a day might still give you lots of time to love on people. That was a Pentecostal pastor and also afraid of being seen to be weird- which, when you think about it is well, weird.
So it looks like a really cool idea won't go forward here just yet- and that's all right because not every good idea is a God idea, and not every God idea is right for now.
So I seem to be the bold adventurous, "out there" guy who is the pastoral equivalent of a bungee jumper- ironic considering I'm normally so conservative and I hate heights.
My point is this- we need to find different ways of engaging the community. We have to stop relying on our old tried and true methods because, frankly they aren't working.
The problem is not that people think christians are weird not in the way they think Hare Krishnas are weird for example. The problem is that they think we are weird in altogether boring kinds of ways.
We need to become less boring, less predictable, less safe... more like the Old Testament prophets or, dare I suggest it, more like Jesus.
Missional: A Double Edged Sword That Cuts Deep March 23, 2009 - 1:25pm by Thomas
When the idea of missional is spoken of it is almost always in good terms. When a church community is being missional it is living out the gospel all days and at all times. Friendships are closer. The community is more tight knit. There is more than just a "worship service." There is living, breating, heart-beating community.
When anything is living and breathing with a beating heart a cut from a sword hurts. That's kind of obvious, but it didn't really sink in until a bunch of "stuff" (for a lack of a better or worse word) happened within our community at The Plant. No one worry, everything is alright and I am still having a blast being part of a community that is trying to find its way on a journey toward being missional in suburbia, but being missional, though it is great to be a close knit community and build strong friendships, well, sometimes being missional kind of sucks. It cuts deep.
None of this used to matter at the big evangelical churches I had attended over the past few years. Someone lives in disobedience, someone likes another church better, someone wants to worship at night, someone wants a better kids program, someone wants a drama or dance team----these were all excuses that rolled of the shoulders of the big evangelical church. People were consumers. That was the model that made or broke you. And it was just a fact of life being in that type of community. The vast majority of the time it was no big deal when a person or family left a church. They just attended.
In our missional community you don't just attend. You participate. You're not a member, you're a partner. There is a big difference. It's a great, awesome, and powerful difference. But sometimes it hurts. Becuase when people matter, their stuff matters, and their leaving or gossip or sins or anger now really matter. They rip the fabric of the community. They breed malice and bitterness and distrust.
I am really beginning to understand the nervousness I have always sensed in Paul and Peter's letters but never been able to relate to until now. When you are in a purposeful community the ugly side of church becomes a much higher stakes game. Missional is a double edged sword that cuts into the hearts of peoples lives and brings them to follow Christ, but it also, when something goes wrong, cuts deep.
So what to do? Well, nothing. Jesus or the apostles never said it would be easy. Christ gives us an easy burden, but it is still a burden. It is still sometimes hard.
It may not be a coincidence that the various ordeals of our church plant have crept up during Lent. As we remember Christ's time in the wilderness, his temptations, his foreshadowed crucifixion, it's comforting in a way beyond words. Christ has gone before us and has been tempted in everyway. He also had great joy in life spending time with his disciples. He also got angry or frustrated with them. Being a group is complicated.
That's it. No words of wisdom from me other than: being missional---living in community---it's complicated.
Next Reformation offers the following tips for changing the mind-set of churches about being christian in a post-Christendom world.
Instilling missional habits..
David Fitch asks how we lead a church community to engage mission as a way of life? How do we train a congregation out of Christendom habits and instil post Christendom virtues? Curiously, I had a conversation a few mornings ago and was reminded of a comment Todd Hunter made some years ago. “Nurture the kind of life and practices you want; starve those you don't want.” Dave advocates the gentle rejection of certain assumptions and practices in favour of a missional imagination and missional practices. He lists nine items, and this is the shorthand..
1.) Kindly Reject doing Outreach Events. Instead direct imagination towards ways of connecting with people where they are.
2.) Kindly Reject evangelism as a one time hit on a target with a preconceived outcome. Kindle imagination toward seeing mission as part of regular daily, weekly and monthly life rhythms.
3.) Kindly reject building multiple use buildings as if by building a gymnasium on the church campus we can bring people into the orbit of the church. We should build less third spaces, and inhabit more the ones already there.
4.) Kindly reject one-on-one evangelism and the techniques associated with such apologetic persuasion. Instead direct imagination for inhabiting places in two’s or three’s or more. Hospitals, the school systems, the park districts … two or three Christians together become an undeniable force for the kingdom under the Lordship of Christ.
5.) Kindly reject the Sunday morning gathering as an evangelistic event for it cannot be that in the new post Christendom cultures. Instead fire up imagination for the formation that comes from a communal encounter with the living God in Jesus Christ.
6.) Kindly reject coercive persuasion and argument in our witness. Instead stoke the imagination of your people for seeking “one person of peace” (Luke 10) among the lost of their neighbourhoods.
7.) Kindly reject presumptuous postures of power as we live our lives among those who do not know Christ yet. Instead direct the imagination towards the way Christ always enters the human situation in humility. Come to your neighbours humbly and in need. Instead of offering them a meal, find ways to participate in a meal with them. If you’re in the suburbs ask them if you can borrow their lawnmower.
8.) Kindly Reject Surveying the neighbourhood - Direct the imagination toward exegeting the neighbourhood. Surveying looks at the neighbourhood as a place to market our church,- Exegeting a neighbourhood requires inhabiting the neighbourhood, discovering where the hurting are and the unjust structures are.
9.) Kindly Reject problem solving - instead direct the imagination towards “appreciative inquiry.” We often approach church through problem solving. What is wrong with our programs? What needs are we not meeting? What needs to be tweaked? What are we not doing right? This is negative, mechanical and lifeless.
I suggest # 10 .. 10. Kindly reject strategic planning in favour of thoughtful preparation. We really don’t know the future… but we know that the Spirit is birthing his kingdom among us as we respond faithfully day by day. We keep our eyes on Jesus. Newbigin warned us that, “the significant advances of the church have not been the result of our own decision about the mobilizing and allocating of “resources” [rather] the significant advances have come through happenings of which the story of Peter and Cornelius is a paradigm, in ways of which we have no advance knowledge.” (The Open Secret)